Solway Coastwise

Solway Coastwise is a project that is discovering coastal place names and the stories behind them.  Locals are encouraged to share the inspirational Dumfries and Galloway coastline through activities, events, electronic and printed media.

The Dumfries and Galloway coast has a wonderful variety of features, both natural and man-made. Cliffs, creeks, lighthouses and beaches contribute towards a fascinating array of names, all affording the prospect of finding out more about local traditions, environment, histories and relationships between communities and the sea.

Solway Coastwise has produced a NEW TIDE ISLANDS & SHIFTING SANDS GUIDE to join the CAVES AND GRAVES GUIDE, that provide an introduction to some of the stories that are connected to place names and a WILDLIFE GUIDE, that identifies the creatures and plants that have inspired place names along the Dumfries and Galloway coast. A BEACH GUIDE for Scotland’s Southern Coast has information about beaches popular for a family outing as well as locations suitable for adventourous explorers and is combined with an explaination about place names and the stories behind them.

The Solway Coastwise Project aims to give everyone in these coastal communities the opportunity to communicate their passion for their coast, bringing the cultural heritage of this fantastic landscape alive.

This innovative three year project, run by Solway Firth Partnership, is facilitating the sharing of names for local places, both traditional and more modern and the oral history behind them.

In the past place names were spoken and rarely written down. The naming process allowed place names to slowly change or be replaced by new, more relevant names whilst others seemed to persist in the oral tradition. A changing language, often driven by new people settling in the area, influenced the names we find on the coast and the meaning has often been ‘lost in translation’. When names were written in documents they often occurred in different spellings but this all changed when Ordnance Survey maps were first published over 150 years ago.

Although languages of a Celtic origin such as Gaelic had been spoken for hundreds of years they were gradually replaced by the Scots language. By the 1840s when Ordnance Survey surveyors began to record place names Gaelic had become a long forgotten language however many names still retained their Gaelic origins but had been adapted or translated into new names. Surveyors recording names often anglicised names further amending the Scots for words more acceptable to English speakers.

The Ordnance Survey began mapping Scotland in 1843, at a scale of six inches to the mile, in order to produce clear, and accurate plans. This mapping required precise naming and it was presumed that every place had a “correct” name with a meaning that was understood and could be written down. The collection of names depended on the surveyor confirming the authenticity for each place name in the Object Name Book. Alternative names, the source of the names, a description of the feature and its location were all recorded. In some cases, translations of Scots and Gaelic names are made, although they are not always accurate. When the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey maps were published the spoken word became a written word, and by appearing on the map it became an “official” name.

The Object Name Book for the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey maps provides a very good starting point for studying how names have evolved and their likely meanings. See resource sheet 2.

The Ordnance Survey maps standardised place names in Dumfries and Galloway at a time when names were often a Scots phonological adaptation of an earlier Gaelic place name or a Scots translation of the Gaelic meaning.

Foxes Rattle Mull of Galloway coastwise

For example at the Mull of Galloway the rocks in the foreground of the image are named on the 1st edition OS map Inchshalloch  – derived from the Gaelic inis sionnach meaning island of the fox. At almost the same location is a place called Foxes Rattle –  meaning a stoney place where foxes live where the use of rattle is a local Scots word meaning a pile of stones.

The names that we give to places help us describe a location to other people. In this way they help us find our way in both the physical and legendary landscape. Along the west coast of the Rhins almost every rock appears to have a name providing a shorthand way of describing a location and a key to unlocking the cultural history of places .

Ardwell Bay on the eastern shore of the South Rhins has a beautiful sandy beach and with the help of a map is a great place to explore the place names of the nearby rugged shore.



Base Hole describes a natural shaft linking the cliff top and the beach below south of Ardwell Bay. The feature is known locally as ‘Bull Hole’ after an unfortunate incident involving a bull falling down the shaft. Take care on the cliffs!

Mary Wilson’s Slunk  is the site of a wreck. In the Rhins the word slunk is used to describe a gully or narrow bay on a rocky shore.  Many ships have been lost along the coast and most have been forgotten but the Mary Wilson is remembered though a place name.

Stinking Bight is a bight is a shallow indent in the coastline north of Ardwell Bay. The seaweed washed up in this location has resulted in a name that identifies the place through its smell rather than how it looks.


Sheep Hank is no longer marked on the OS map this small cave is located midway between the larger Red Cave and Black Cave. Caves and the people who made them their home are usually long forgotten but  Sheep Hank or Sheeps’ Rink Co’, a niche in the rocks is remembered as the residence of William Purves. In  the late 1800s former clown and strongman he retired to his seaside home where he undertook odd jobs and sold picture postcards of himself.

Partan Point is no longer shown on OS maps Partan Point is location on a tidal rock called Red Isle. One of many place names inspired by wildlife partan is a Scots word for crab suggesting that this location is a notable location for crab fishing.

Saltpans is a name that identifies one of several salt works on the Rhins coast. Manufactured from seawater from medieval times and continuing until the early 1800s when reduced import taxes meant better quality salt could importecheaply from other countries.

A Coordinator and Assistant are helping individuals, communities and businesses to get involved in the project.  As well as this, training to become ambassadors will be made available through a range of workshops, talks, visits and resources.

Funding for this project is provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Scottish Government and the European Union – LEADER 2014-2020 programme and Dumfries & Galloway Council.

For more information about the project contact us at

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We can also be found on FacebookTwitter (@SolwayCoastwise),Pinterest and Instagram.


Contact Details:

Solway Coastwise Co-ordinator:

Nic Coombey

Phone: (01387) 702363

Solway Coastwise Assistant:

Morag Walker

Phone: (01387) 702182